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Talking to NanoPiko About PictoQuest and Launching Games The Day They're Announced

by Neal Ronaghan - August 8, 2019, 6:24 am PDT
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Developers with experience ranging from Big Bang Mini and The Next Penelope to Pix the Cat and Dishonored are shadowdropping games as they debut.

NanoPiko is a trio of game developers (Herve Barbaresi, Florian Sciberras, and Aurelien Regard) who have worked on a number of games you might have come across over the years, whether it’s the early 2019 Switch release Away: Journey to the Unexpected, the secretly great DS game Big Bang Mini, or the coincidentally also out on Switch today Pix the Cat.

Their new studio has a unique focus: they’re making smaller games that will be announced and launched on the same day. Their first game is out today on Switch. It’s called PictoQuest and it’s a Picross-inspired RPG. We’ll have more coverage on the game soon, but until then, we sat down with the team to pick their brain about their unique release plans and their Picross RPG.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): First off, what past games have the three of you worked on?

Herve Barbaresi (HB): Aurélien worked on quite some games including Nervous Brickdown, Big Bang Mini, and Hell Yeah! as the main artist/designer of Arkedo (which he co-founded) and, more recently, Away: Journey to the Unexpected and The Next Penelope (both are available on Switch).

Florian, our coder, worked on games as diverse as Rayman Jungle Run (Pastagames for Ubisoft), City of Love: Paris (Ubisoft), and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider (Arkane Studios).

For my part, the most notable games in which I have been involved as main artist/designer are Maestro! Jump in Music, Pix the Cat (Pastagames) or, just like Florian, Rayman Jungle Run (Pastagames for Ubisoft).

NWR: What the origins of the name of your company NanoPiko?

HB: We were looking for a name that reflects our desire to create small games, imagined and completed in a very spontaneous way. In France, a popular expression says "what is small is cute". And we are small in the world of video game makers, we liked the idea of assuming it in the name of our studio. (That said, that does not necessarily mean that we are cute ^^)

NWR: Aurélien - you specifically did something similar with the Arkedo Series games on Xbox Live Indie Games. How did that experience impact your plan now? Strategies that worked? Strategies you learned didn't work?

Aurélien Regard (AR): Wow, you've got some serious memory skills, kudos! The Arkedo series had only one goal: we needed tiny projects to learn how to fill a big screen (having only made Nintendo DS games before). At the time we spent about one month on each of them, as practice, really : ) With NanoPiko, we're still targeting fun, small games but hopefully they'll feel way more polished!

(Now that you say it, did we surprise released them at the time? I can't remember tbh. But yeah, we sure seek the same spontaneous, light-hearted way of doing things here.)

NWR: What inspired your new strategy of announcing and launching a game on the same day?

HB: This is a decision we made very early when NanoPiko became a reality. It's mainly about being coherent: We are three and we make small games, so it would be inappropriate to spend as much time communicating about our games as making them.

And, it is also very important, we are aware that the audience is very solicited, and that the game offer can be so overwhelming that it is difficult to get his attention. We also live it as players.

For all these reasons, this seemed to us the most relevant way to talk about our games. Of course, it's risky. And maybe this move will be a total failure, but we want to give it a try.

NWR: How frequently are you hoping to release games?

HB: Hmm ... touchy question. I can not really answer it... Sincerely, if there's a complicated thing to handle when working in video games, it is to have a precise forecast and stick to it. There will be another announcement, one day, for sure. And, if you trust us, you will know that the wait is behind you! That's all I can tell!

NWR: Your first game is PictoQuest. Was this the first game idea you three worked on, or just the first one that came together?

HB: This is the first idea we wanted to achieve among all our ideas. It was also the most obvious in terms of game design and the easiest to visualize for each of us.

NWR: Why do a Picross RPG?

HB: Above all, PictoQuest is a logic puzzle game. We always loved these kind of games. And the first time Aurélien talked about mixing this specific gameplay with light elements from RPGs, it sounded obvious. It was up to us to find the most natural way to merge these into the concept.

NWR: How do the RPG mechanics feed back into the Picross-like gameplay?

HB: The challenge was to not over-complicate the basic gameplay (the logic puzzle mechanics) by adding too many elements of RPGs. It shouldn't be too invasive, but on the contrary, keep it simple.

So, for example, enemies have a life and ATB-like gauges (and they can sometimes miss their attacks). The player can influence the difficulty by using magic items, NPCs are waiting for you on the map for side missions, that sort of thing... (I don't want to say too much, so...)

Most of the time, the player will not pay much attention to these mechanics at the very beginning of his game experience. But after a few hours, he will have integrated these particularities at his own pace. It is above all a puzzle game, but with its own personality.

NWR: Any classic RPGs serve as inspiration?

HB: No precise inspirations, but rather a set of influences. I bet you will find which ones through the tone of the pixel art, the music, and the design of some monsters!

NWR: What tweaks - if any - did you make to the Picross style for the picture puzzles in PictoQuest?

HB: Just a few things. For instance, we wanted the player to not have to manage a zoom system. We had to find the right proportions to keep 20x20 grids perfectly playable in portable mode. And we particularly wanted each completed puzzle to end with a little animation. It's always rewarding for the player, especially if he's spent tens of minutes on a complex grid!

NWR: Are the controls buttons only or can you use the touchscreen?

HB: Just button controls.This is mainly due to the fact that we have large grids. In portable mode, with only fingers, the player would certainly have lost in accuracy and readability.

NWR: Would any future NanoPiko game revisit any of your past characters or projects?

HB: Hmm... that would seem complicated. First of all, there are often rights issues when we talk about that. And then, with NanoPiko, it is also an opportunity to project ourselves into new experiences, without looking too much behind us. But who knows after all?

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